How to talk to your parents about estate planning

It is a difficult conversation to have, but you know that you need to have it....the dreaded estate planning discussion with your parents. Many of our clients have asked us how they can "get their parents to do their estate planning." The bottom line is that you can't force your parents to do anything, and trying to scare them into it, or being heavy-handed about it just doesn't work. Your parents raised you and they most likely aren't going to be happy if you approach the conversation as though the roles have reversed.

So, how do you have this conversation and encourage action on the part of your parents? Here are some tips in no particular order...

  1. Don't talk about the "money" (at least not at first) - Many parents aren't comfortable having financial discussions with their children in the first place. So try to avoid discussing money, or using phrases like "my inheritance" when talking to your parents. Remember, estate planning is a lot more about people than the stuff...so keep it that way.
  2. Ask questions (but don't interrogate) - One of the best ways I have seen to start a conversation with a parent regarding estate planning is to: begin by acknowledging that this all about your parents, qualify the concern, and follow it up with a question. For example, "Mom, it is really important to me that we are following your wishes when your no longer around, and it is really uncomfortable for me to ask, but I need to understand how you want things done so that I can make sure your wishes are taken care of the way you want them to be. Do you want to avoid taxes and probate?" Or "Dad, it is really important to me that I am carrying out things the way you want them done if you aren't able to do it yourself some day. Do you know who you want to make decisions for you if you can't?" Is it important for you to avoid the court getting involved?" You may want to avoid bringing up documents when asking your parents what is important to them. If they don't know what you are referring to, they may be embarassed to admit it.
  3. Followup with your own experiences - Sharing your own experiences can be a powerful way to explain the importance of estate planning without being forceful. Estate planning was most likely a learning experience for you if you worked with a qualified professional, and while you shouldn't be giving your parents legal advice, you may be to tell them about the experience and the problems the attorney solved for you. If you want to name your parents in any of your documents, you might ask if you could set up time with the attorney to help explain how the documents work if you think they would be receptive at that point. Ex. "Dad, I am setting up a Living Trust because I want to avoid probate and after death costs for the kids. I am also having the attorney draft a Will as a part of my estate plan, and you are named as both a guardian for the kids. Could we set up a time with my attorney to explain what you would need to do if something happened to me?" (Note: younger people often name their parents in their estate planning documents as fiduciaries for them or their children, but it is always a good idea to name a backup, especially since the parents are more likely to predecease you).

If you have any questions about any of this general information or if you would like to set up a consultation with a Connecticut Trusts Attorney at our office, click here for our contact information.